Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has built Minnesota's defense into one of the league's top units in the four seasons that he has been in town.
The Vikings rank near the top of the NFL in a number of statistical categories, including being fifth in both yards allowed (295.5 per game) and points allowed (17.2) per game.
Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com took a deeper dive at the stat sheet and found nine stats the tell the story of why the Vikings are having continued success on defense six games into the 2017 season.
Here are three noteworthy numbers that Coller found:
Yards per play allowed: 4.8
If you want to figure out whether your defense has been playing well, the first stat you should check is yards per play. As mentioned, point totals can be influenced by late, meaningless scores or field position. Yards per play shows you whether your defense is generally shutting teams down or giving up big chunks of yards on a regular basis. In this case, the Vikings defense isn't allowing opponents to move the ball with much success.
Safety Harrison Smith's Pro Football Focus score: 94.0
You need not look much farther than the last two games to understand the level of play the Vikings have received from Harrison Smith this year. On Monday night, he intercepted Mitch Trubisky to set up a game-winning field goal, then against the Packers, he picked up 1.5 sacks, an interception and defended two passes. Smith is the ultimate all-around safety who can make big plays in the run, as a blitzer or in deep coverage.
Xavier Rhodes' passer rating against: 52.4
Considering the competition that Xavier Rhodes has faced this season – starting the year with Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown and Mike Evans – his success has been remarkable, even by his standards. Rhodes' combination of work ethic, size, speed and length makes him a very difficult matchup, even for the quickest or tallest wide receivers. He's been shadowing top receivers every week, making it difficult for opponents to game-plan for their most skilled weapons.
Vikings want better efficiency closing out games
NFL players often say there is always something to get better at, even after a win such as the Vikings 23-10 victory over the Packers on Sunday.
Left guard Jeremiah Sirles found an area to improve, as he wasn't satisfied with how the Vikings offense finished out the fourth quarter against Green Bay.
Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune chatted with Sirles and pinpointed the Vikings rushing attack as something that needs to be more efficient in the closing minutes.
Why? After all, the Vikings rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season (they'd done so just twice all of last season). Sirles jumped in to start for injured left guard Nick Easton, yet the Vikings' reinvigorated offensive line didn't skip a beat as running back Jerick McKinnon averaged 4.3 yards per carry and quarterback Case Keenum wasn't sacked.
"We're not pumped with the way we finished running the ball," Sirles said. "I felt we could've done more in that aspect. Eat the clock a little bit."
Sirles told Krammer he wants the Vikings to move the chains and kill the clock instead of giving the opponent the ball back.
After two lengthy 11- and 12-play scoring drives in the third quarter, the Vikings run game stalled when given the chance to close out the 23-10 win. McKinnon and Latavius Murray collectively churned out 7 rushing yards on five carries in the fourth quarter, which included two three-and-outs.
"When you get the ball back with, I think it was five minutes left, you look at everyone in the huddle and say, 'Hey, let's finish the game here. Let's not even give them a heartbeat,' " Sirles said. "And then to go three-and-out like that, that's tough. We put our defense in a tough spot."